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The OC proved shows didn’t have to be dumb to have mass appeal

The OC was underrated first time around, so Sam Delaney welcomes the chance to revisit with a new podcast: Welcome to the OC, Bitches! 
Photo: Allstar Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

There’s a new podcast aimed at superfans of noughties teen drama The OC. The show originally aired in 2003, during the formative years of TV’s golden age, when the US subscription channel HBO was completely rewriting the rule book on what was possible on the small screen. Shows like The Wire and The Sopranos were so outrageously ambitious and perfectly realised that they inspired a generation of storytellers to plough their talents into making TV – something that had previously been the poor relation of cinema or literature. We are still reaping the benefits of those trailblazers today.

The OC might not often be mentioned in the same breath as those high-class dramas but it was arguably just as influential. Not just because it made stars of its young cast (Mischa Barton was a staple of both fashion and celeb magazine covers for the next 10 years) and became the launchpad for some of the defining fashion and music of the era. But because it was just as well written as all those cool shows that posturing, fancypants critics of the time (like me) were going on about.

After all, there had always been highbrow drama for niche audiences hidden away in the more rarified quarters of popular entertainment. But The OC was one of the first shows to demonstrate that wit, nuance and pathos could be fused comfortably with gloss and sparkle to deliver a mainstream hit to huge audiences.

In other words, it proved that shows didn’t have to be dumb in order to have mass appeal.

The creator Josh Schwartz (a guest on episode one of the pod) explains how Fox had wanted a new incarnation of Beverly Hills, 90210 but what he really wanted to write was a new incarnation of Paul Feig’s seminal Freaks and Geeks (widely regarded as the benchmark for ultra-smart teen shows). So he made it look and feel like just another rich kids show-by-numbers while stealthily delivering something far more smart, funny, satirical and touching than you could possibly expect. Now, all these years later, two of the cast members (Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke) have launched a look-back pod series (Welcome to the OC, Bitches!) that deep-dives the show episode by episode, speaking to old friends and colleagues about the impact it made on their lives and wider culture.

Maybe listening to a fan pod about a teen drama when I’m 46 is even more embarrassing than actually watching that teen drama when I was 28. But I am not embarrassed because the pod (recommended to me by my 13-year-old daughter, also an OC fanatic) has reminded me that there was so much more to the show than the fundamentals seemed to indicate.

If you were too cool to watch it at the time, go back and watch it now. The OC is not so much a forgotten classic as a masterpiece that was hiding in plain sight.

Welcome to the OC, Bitches! is hosted by Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke. The OC is on All4